Senate Conservatives Concede, Won’t Delay DHS Bill

Passage of a “clean” measure expected before Friday deadline, though House prospects remain uncertain.

Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) makes a brief statement to the news media before the second day of markup hearings in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Feb. 26, 2015, 9:53 a.m.

The Sen­ate will pass a clean bill fund­ing the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity Fri­day morn­ing, roughly 12 hours be­fore the de­part­ment is set to run out of fund­ing.

Des­pite con­ser­vat­ive groups and blogs blast­ing Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s “sur­render,” im­mig­ra­tion hard­liners in the Sen­ate ap­peared to wave their own white flags on Thursday, al­low­ing lead­ers to come to a deal to fund the de­part­ment be­fore Fri­day night’s shut­down dead­line.

With a deal to pass a clean DHS fund­ing bill mov­ing for­ward some time in the next two weeks no mat­ter what they did, con­ser­vat­ives did not raise any ob­jec­tions to Mc­Con­nell’s strategy dur­ing a con­fer­ence lunch­eon on Thursday. A four vote series to pass the DHS bill is sched­uled to be­gin at ap­prox­im­ately 10 a.m. Fri­day.

Mc­Con­nell filed clo­ture Thursday even­ing on sep­ar­ate le­gis­la­tion from Sen. Susan Collins that would de­fund Pres­id­ent Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. Re­pub­lic­ans hope to pass that bill im­me­di­ately after fund­ing DHS, but Demo­crats have said they will not con­sent to mov­ing for­ward with the Collins meas­ure un­til after a clean DHS bill has made it to Obama’s desk. That dis­agree­ment over tim­ing nearly scuttled the DHS agree­ment Thursday.

Earli­er Thursday, over ta­cos, Re­pub­lic­ans dis­cussed their op­tions mov­ing for­ward and ex­ited the meet­ing largely op­tim­ist­ic that the DHS bill will clear the Sen­ate by Fri­day even­ing, be­fore the de­part­ment shuts down at mid­night that night.

Pro­spects for the DHS bill in the House are un­cer­tain, with GOP lead­er­ship in that cham­ber now con­sid­er­ing pas­sage of a short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion, likely three weeks, to buy them­selves more time. But what hap­pens in the lower-cham­ber is of little con­cern to sen­at­ors who have had the DHS bill on their plates for two months.

“We’ve got to fund DHS and say to the House: ‘Here’s a straw so you can suck it up,’” Sen. Mark Kirk said.

Al­though Sens. Jeff Ses­sions and James In­hofe had been highly crit­ic­al of Mc­Con­nell’s de­cision to pass a clean fund­ing bill and voted against mov­ing for­ward with that strategy on Wed­nes­day, neither raised con­cerns about the le­gis­la­tion dur­ing Thursday’s lunch, sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers said. Asked after the meet­ing wheth­er he would hold up the bill through the week­end, In­hofe said em­phat­ic­ally: “No!”

“I don’t look to have any un­ne­ces­sary delays in this pro­cess,” Ses­sions said, ac­know­ledging that he will not hold up the bill either. “I like to see what kind of [Un­an­im­ous Con­sent] we’re look­ing at but I think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to move for­ward with the bill. “¦ I’m not in­ter­ested in delay merely for the sake of delay.”

Based on con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the lunch­eon, half a dozen Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers, in­clud­ing the GOP Whip, said they did not be­lieve any of their col­leagues would hold up the bill.

Ses­sions and In­hofe fol­low on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz, who has long called on the Sen­ate to de­fund the pres­id­ent’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion, but said earli­er this week that he would not hold up the bill. Cruz didn’t even at­tend Thursday’s lunch, opt­ing in­stead to speak at the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence in Mary­land.

Kirk ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the “hard­liners,” in­clud­ing Ses­sions, who have pushed DHS so close to the pre­cip­ice. “This battle should be the end of the strategy of at­tach­ing whatever you’re up­set with the pres­id­ent [about] to a vi­tal piece of gov­ern­ment,” Kirk said.

Those con­ces­sions will al­low Re­pub­lic­ans, along with the co­oper­a­tion of Demo­crats, to move much more quickly through the pro­cess of passing the DHS bill and send­ing it back to the House. Had In­hofe, Ses­sions or an­oth­er mem­ber ob­jec­ted the pro­cess could have las­ted through Sunday, for­cing a two-day shut­down at DHS. Head­ing in­to the meet­ing, many Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers thought that was likely.

But the pro­spect of spend­ing the week­end in Wash­ing­ton with DHS shuttered was un­pop­u­lar with the vast ma­jor­ity of mem­bers. With Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats now in un­an­im­ous agree­ment to move for­ward, the Sen­ate will be able to leave Wash­ing­ton for the week­end on Fri­day, leav­ing the fate of the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity in the hands of the House.

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